Cruise ship arrives in Malaysia after fire
SANDAKAN, Malaysia (Reuters) - A stricken luxury cruise ship with over a thousand people on board arrived at a Malaysian port in Borneo island late on Sunday after spending more than a day in waters prowled by pirates.
Escorted by two Malaysian patrol vessels, the brightly lit Azamara Quest made its way into Sandakan port in Malaysia's Sabah state after 8.30 pm (1230 GMT) with passengers seen standing on the decks, Reuters witnesses said.
The 11-deck cruise ship, carrying 600 passengers, who are mostly westerners, and 411 crew, suffered an engine-room fire on Friday that disabled the engines and left the liner temporarily stranded off the southern Philippines coast.
The fire is the latest in a string of accidents that has focused global attention on the safety of modern cruise ships. It was put out on Saturday although five crew members suffered from smoke inhalation with one requiring serious medical help.
Engineers onboard the 11-deck cruise ship restored the ship's propulsion on Saturday and an escort flotilla of U.S. and Philippines Navy vessels guided the cruise ship into Malaysian waters on Sunday.
The waters off the coast of southern Philippines and northern Sabah are key hunting grounds for pirates and the Abu Sayyaf, a deadly Islamic militant group.
The Abu Sayyaf wants an independent Islamic nation in the south of Roman Catholic Philippines, and has been responsible for high profile kidnappings of westerners, including abducting tourists from a nearby Malaysian resort island in 2000.
Azamara Club Cruises, a unit of the world's No.2 cruise operator Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, said it was cancelling the rest of the 17-night Southeast Asian voyage that began in Hong Kong last week.
The company will refund the passengers who were mainly Americans, Australians and West Europeans. Chief executive Larry Pimentel will meet the passengers and crew on Monday.
The Azamara fire comes as the luxury cruise industry faces one of its rockiest years and increased global scrutiny after thirty-two people died when the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized off the western coast of Italy in January.
This was followed by a fire on the Costa Allegra that left it stranded in waters patrolled by pirates in the Indian Ocean for three days in February. Both ships were run by Costa Crociere SpA, a unit of Carnival Corp, the world's largest cruise operator.
Many of the passengers on the Azamara Quest remained upbeat as the ship made its way through Malaysian waters.
"This is our first trip on a cruise holiday and after what has happened you would think we would not want to go again but you are so wrong," said Neil Andrew Kirkpatrick who posted on the Azamara Facebook page on Sunday.
"The only discomfort is the heat due to the air-conditioning not working but I can suffer that as I know the engineering department have been working 24/7 to try to get this up and running."
(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in MANILA)